Question: Does "Chiltern Hundreds" have any historical significance?
An old principle of English parliamentary law declared that a member of the House of Commons, once duly chosen, could not "resign" his seat. This rule was a relic of the days when the local gentry had to be compelled to serve in parliament. The only method, therefore, of avoiding the rule came to be by accepting an office of profit from the crown, a statute of 1707 enacting that every member accepting an office of profit from the crown should thereby vacate his seat, but should be capable of re-election, unless the office in question had been created since 1705, or had been otherwise declared to disqualify for a seat in parliament. Among the posts of profit held by members of the House of Commons in the first half of the 18th century are to be found the names of several crown stewardships, which apparently were not regarded as places of profit under the crown within the meaning of the act of 1707, for no seats were vacated by appointment to them. The first instance of the acceptance of such a stewardship vacating a seat was in 1740, when the house decided that Sir W.W. Wynn, on inheriting from his father, in virtue of a royal grant, the stewardship of the lordship and manor of Bromfield and Yale, had "ipso facto" vacated his seat. On the passing of the Place Act of 1742, the idea of utilizing the appointment to certain crown stewardships as a pretext for enabling a member to resign his seat was carried into practice. These nominal stewardships were eight in number, but only two survived to be used in this way in contemporary practice--those of the Chilterns and Northstead; and when a member wished to vacate his seat, he was accordingly spoken of as taking the Chiltern Hundreds.
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